7 Things to Know about “STEVE”

For media inquiries, contact Media Relations at aurorasaurus.info@gmail.com

Update 4/25/17 (by Liz MacDonald):

Steve has gone viral! Check out the articles here.

The Aurorasaurus team has been working on this topic along with the University of Calgary, Alberta Aurora Chasers, and others. We are writing a paper on this, including the key role citizen scientists have played in this new discovery.


How can you help right now?
Past observations of STEVE can be added to our database to document the frequency of STEVE appearances. Also Aurorasaurus can be used in real-time to see who’s seeing STEVE on a map. Multiple observations at the same time can help define the altitude of STEVE.
Report #STEVE in the notes tab when you submit observations.

There’s a new dancing light display in the sky, and it’s not the usual aurora. We need your help to learn more!

Giving off a glow in mostly purple and green colors, the phenomenon was observed by members of a Facebook group called the “Alberta Aurora Chasers” who named the display “Steve.” Why Steve? Well, this is a reference to the popular children’s movie Over the Hedge where one of the characters isn’t sure what he is looking at and randomly names it Steve. Steve was formerly called by aurora chasers and photographers a “proton arc” (also known as a proton aurora). Proton aurora, or aurora caused by the raining down of protons from the magnetosphere is broad, diffuse, and dim visually unlike the structure of Steve that is narrow and has motion. So we know it is not a proton arc although we do not yet fully know what it is.

More than 50 observer reports have been seen in 2016 and we are hoping for more in 2017. We’re working with Canadian and European researchers, data providers, and the Ambassadors network on this and will bring you more information as we know more. Space scientists from NASA, the University of Calgary and other places are already trying to make Steve an acronym meaning “Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement” based on its characteristics from simultaneous satellite observations.

We are are still learning more about Steve, but here are seven things we think we know so far:

  1. Steve appears ~10-20° (in latitude) closer to the equator (south in the Northern hemisphere) than where the normal green aurora is overhead. This means it could be overhead at latitudes similar to Calgary, Canada.
  2. Steve is a very narrow arc aligned East-West and extending for hundreds or thousands of miles.
  3. Steve emits light in mostly purple-ish colors. It is quite faint but is usually photographed with 5-10 second exposures.
  4. Sometimes, it is accompanied by a rapidly evolving green short-lived picket fence structure.
  5. Steve can last 20 min or even longer.
  6. Steve appears to have a season. For instance, it has not been observed by citizen scientists from October 2016 to February 2017.
  7. This phenomena has been reported from the UK, Canada, Alaska, northern US states, and even New Zealand.

As we are still learning more about this unique phenomenon, reports from citizen scientists have been immensely helpful in tracking down the shape, location, and timing of Steve and giving clues to scientists about the origin of this mysterious piece of chemistry in the sky. Until then, keep submitting your observation to Aurorasaurus.org via the website or Aurorasaurus app.

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35 thoughts on “7 Things to Know about “STEVE”

  • Do you have a reference source that explains proton aurora as being broad, diffuse and dimly visible and why?

  • Until recently I knew nothong about “Steve”. Thanks for the info!

    My most recent sighting was east of Langdon AB from approx. 10-11PM Wed Apr 19, 2017.

    It was due east and spanned from the horizon to vertically overhead at its max. As it was almost colourless, I inadvertently deleted the photos. If I had only known.

  • Very interesting and thanks for naming it after me! Ha! Maybe its some type of Stable Auroral Red Arc (SAR arc). SAR arcs are defined as monochromatic emission in red light at 630.0 nm conduction between energetic electrons and atomic oxygen near 400 km altitude.
    Steve Smith
    Center for Space Physics
    Boston University

  • I saw this way back in the late ’70’s from the highlands of Scotland. It was a clear moonless night, no idea now which month or year even, it was aurora-like which struck me at the time but refused to do any of the classic aurora tricks. Rather it was a slightly wavy diffuse band maybe 2 degrees wide that went across the entire sky in a predominantly east-west direction, and passed almost due overhead. It had no discernable colour, not really bright enough for colour to show vividly, but definitely lacking the apple-green of an auroral band. I watched it for a good while, at least 20 minutes or so, during which no other aurora effects were present. If it moved it was too slow to be noticable. I filed it away in my mind as “that very odd aurora-like wiggly band” and it has always stuck in my mind.

  • If they are seeing it in New Zealand, which is very south, would it still be Steve, or would it be a similar southern event?

  • Hi, regarding your statement “Steve appears to have a season. For instance, it has not been observed by citizen scientists from October 2016 to February 2017.” we have examples from New Zealand and Tasmania in October and November. Can be found at Aurora Australis and Aurora Australis Facebook pages.

  • It’s nearly not possible to obtain effectively-knowledgeable peoplle in this specific topic, however, you appear to be like you know what you’re speaking
    about! Manny thanks

  • I live in a northern suburb of Columbus, Ohio. Last night around 10:30 my daughter and I observed something that looked like “Steve” for at least 45 minutes. I’ve lived in Ohio my whole life, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It started directly overhead running west to east – and looked like a larger and fatter than normal contrail. It got my attention because it was like, what kind of plane made that? The sky was very clear and there were no other contrails or clouds at all – zero anything. As time went on the ribbon got softer – less tightly defined and contrail-ish – and stretched from horizon to horizon – softer at the horizons. Over the duration of our observation the position of the ribbon moved from overhead to the south. I checked the weather and the wind was coming from the southwest. So, I’m like, whatever it is, it’s not some sort of a cloud or contrail. There were other rays of it that were less pronounced and defined that emanated out of the western horizon end of it. As we watched it we saw a few “flashes” or “pulses” of light toward the southeast sky. No weather round. No heat lightning, etc. Anybody else see this? Was it Steve???

  • Excellent !! I was just reading an ESA article re: “Steve”, and how the Swarm satellites measured 3000°C at 300km directly above it. Yep – a Swarm satellite just happened to be in the neighborhood.

    I thought the 3 Swarm satellites only measured gravity, and Earth’s rapidly declining magnetic field (magnetic shield) so the heat measured over Steve was extra cool. I guess that is my academic hobby. Space, and particularly the causes and effects of the decline in the magnetic fields of Earth and the Sun, and the shrinking heliopause/heliosphere, as measured by the Ulysses spacecraft. Here is more on that: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/23sep_solarwind

    Peace from Canada

  • Please clarify: Are you stating that this is in fact a completely new phenomeon and not simply something that has been previously observed but erroneously identified as an unusual form of the normal aurora?

  • Pingback: Dr. Nathan Case
  • Its big news now, viral, now in March 2018, with the peer reviewed scientific paper now published. See Robunson Meyeys article in the atlantc mag this montth or googke steve. Manny Thanks!

  • Changing the name of this aurora to STEPHEN in honor of the late great Stephen Hawking would be an excellent memorial to the best known and widely admired scientist of our time.
    The current name of Steve has little meaning to most people and will be regarded as nonsense by future generations. The acronym assigned by the scientists is neither understood or remembered by the average person.
    We have a very timely and unique opportunity to name a cosmic wonder after a man who devoted his life to the study of the cosmos.
    The name Steve could be used as a nickname, which will eventually fade away, and the official name “Stephen”
    will endure through time and have meaning far into the future.

  • This is not a newly-noted phenomena. Nor is it something that has been previously observed, but mis-identified. It has been systematically, observed, identified and reported in the scientific literature since the 1920 and 30s (e.g. Stoermer, “Blue Auroral Rays Situated in the Sunlit Part of the Atmosphere”, Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 44, issue 1, pp. 7-14, 1939). It has been studied extensively and there are plenty of academic papers on the topic… especially in the 1950s and 60s when ionospheric physics was front-line research.

  • A number of other observers and I witnessed a phenomenon that may have been Steve from Cherry Springs State Park (41.7° N, 77.8° W) in north-central Pennsylvania on the morning of Tuesday, June 12th, 2018. The event lasted for about 20 minutes starting around 1:35 a.m. EDT and was unlike any auroral display that any of us had ever seen. It was seen in the northern sky and appeared as a narrow band of light running somewhat NE to NW and extending to the zenith. It was only 5 to 10 degrees in width and gradually faded to nothingness. One person was able to take a photo, which appears in a Cloudy Nights thread at https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/610961-cherry-springs-star-party-2018/page-8#entry8636402

  • Since I first posted here, I’ve learned that other observers saw the event from Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada.

  • I consider myself a fairly well-read man in terms of any type of earth science (thanks to my Asperger’s), but I have never heard of this until about 20 minutes ago. Believe it or not, I was reading a science fiction novel about the magnetic poles shifting and one of the characters was looking out the north window of an airplane. She noticed it and told her new beau (they were on a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris where the electrical grid had been knocked out by a “geostorm”. I thought this was a weird acronym and was a made up literary term, but looked on the internet to satisfy my curiosity. To my surprise, there was a wikipedia article with general information about it and a picture of one.

    I did live in Anchorage, Alaska back in the 1970’s and witnessed a number of aurora borealis sightings while I was there. Some of them were truly spectacular, especial the one during a winter-time power failure). I do not remember this phenomenon. I wish that I had known about it; I would have looked for it. Now that I live in Tampa, Florida, I doubt that I will ever see one due to my southerly location and the light pollution of a 3-million+ metro area. Thanks for the information and chance to broaden my understanding. I will continue to follow developments on the understanding of STEVE.

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